If you have been watching the news on television lately or reading the newspaper, you may heard about something called a flash mob: a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place (organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails), perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, artistic expression.
So far this summer, there have been flash mobs in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and downtown Chicago, either as a form of social protest (San Francisco) or involving poor, African-American youth losing control (Philadelphia and Chicago).
In a recent column1Chicago Sun Times sports columnist Rick Telander suggested that one way to counter flash mobs (at least the violent kind involving poor youth) is to rebuild broken inner-city sports programs: not only does a good sports program give idle youth something to do, but the benefits of sports for both boys and girls are enormous.
Unfortunately, fixing broken inner city sports infrastructures isn't going to happen over night, and in the meantime athletic administrators around the country are facing more immediate challenges.
Sooner or later, I predict, we will see flash mob violence at a youth sports contest somewhere in this country. It may involve poor kids, which will lead some social commentators to argue that they have nothing better to do. It may involve more well-to-do kids from the suburbs, which some social commentators will likely spin as good kids looking to have some fun and blow off steam. It may happen because a player is gang-affiliated. There are a lot of reasons it may happen, but somewhere it's going to happen. Mark my words.
My worst fear is that a flash mob will take place at a high school basketball game, where heated rivalries and crowds in close proximity to each other have already resulted in spectator riots in many places.
Or it may take place during a high school soccer game, which you don't usually see the kind of security that is typical in a hot, crowded, inner city high school gym, and, at least in California, already provides a combustible mix of poor sportsmanship by everyone, from players and coaches to fans.
Perhaps a flash mob will gather at a Friday night high school football game where crowds are large, and could be hard to control.
That's the problem with flash mobs: almost by definition, where and when they occur is going to be determined by members of the flash mob themselves.
They're going to initiate something.
Here's hoping that high school sports administrators are ready.
1. Rick Telander, Hit Back At Youth Mobs With Something Stronger: Sports, Chicago Sun Times, June 12, 2011.